The Baldpate Mt. Management Plan prepared by T&M Associates of Middletown, NJ for Mercer County has elicited concern among a number of environmental organizations, including WCAS. While the plan calls for only passive recreation at the park, it would allow for a range and intensive level of uses that, we believe, conflict with the conservation values originally intended for the park. Representatives from WCAS, Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, the Sierra Club, Delaware Riverkeeper and Lawrence Greenway met on July 20th to review and discuss the plan and agreed that certain of its features would likely have a negative impact on the ecological integrity of the mountain and its aesthetic values and would accomodate some uses at the expense of others. If fully developed as shown on the plan, the mountain would hardly be a quiet refuge for nature observation.
In addition to its spectacular viewscapes and deep woodland beauty, the mountain is valued as home to unusually high numbers of neotropical migratory songbirds. A breeding bird census conducted in the early 1990's revealed that Baldpate probably has the highest numbers of breeding pairs of forest interior-dwelling birds, such as worm-eating warbler and Kentucky warbler, in central New Jersey. The consultants ignored this study in their natural resources inventory report. Several rare plans also have been recorded on the mountain.
The environmental groups are concerned about the plan's proposal for a paved bicycle path along the length of the ridge. A new trail section would be cut for the path, creating additional forest edge and opening the canopy. Paving can create runoff problems and encourage excessive speed and illegal use by all-terrain vehicles. And the paving simply seems inappropriate for a natural area. Another problem is a camping area proposed for what is now woodland on steep terrain. Again, the canopy would be opened, thus disrupting critical habitat, and the associated camping activity could spoil the woodland for forest species. The extensive but unconnected mountain bike trails, as laid out on the plan, could actually encourage users to stray off trail into the heart of the forest, which would cause havoc for ground-nesting birds and wild plants. At the same time, the proposed equestrian trail is needlessly short and lacks an important loop. It appears that, overall, the plan attempts to groom the mountain to accommodate every conceivable form of broadly defined passive recreation on just 1,100 acres.
The environmental coalition is drafting a response to the plan. Mercer County has promised to have a public meeting on the plan sometime in early fall. This is not a hearing; the County Park Commission already has accepted the plan.
What you can do:The Management Plan, which consists solely of a map, will be available for viewing at the September 18 WCAS program meeting. The date of the County's public meeting has not been set as we go to press; watch for it in the newspapers and plan to attend. You may also write to the Park Commission and the Mercer County Executive expressing your concerns (addresses below.) If you want to be notified of the meeting by e-mail, send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mercer County Park Commission
Mr. Robert Prunetti
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